Using Online Surveys to Gain Insight into Customer Satisfaction

By Cid Jenkins Vice President, ATG's eStara | October 28, 2008

Understanding customer needs has become a critical part of any online sales strategy. The best way for executives in the hotel industry to know whether their company is delivering on brand promises is to gather direct feedback from those their business depends on-their customers.

Increasingly, travel and hospitality companies are investing in fuller-featured, customer friendly Web sites. With the current economic crunch, everyone is fighting for their share of the customer pool. JupiterResearch estimates that $128 billion in U.S. travel will be spent online by 2011, still quite a lucrative market. As hoteliers look to provide the right online capabilities, it is critical to have a baseline understanding of your target customers, how they are using your site and what they'd like to see.

Savvy travel executives are investing in technologies designed to engage and inform browsers, mitigate hesitancy, improve closure rates and deliver more personalized and relevant experiences to consumers. Social computing solutions are making waves as evidenced by the MySpace page for Travelocity's Gnome or the Delta Air Lines blog. Similarly, leading travel aggregators have added ratings, reviews and user generated content to their sites to provide enhanced information.

It is imperative to identify a foundation that ensures site enhancements are in line with user needs and desires and simply not enough to employ new technology and hope it has the desired effect on customer perceptions. Hoteliers need to actively and directly engage guests online and ask them upfront in order to learn what investments contribute directly to earning patron satisfaction and customer retention. It is here that leveraging tried and true surveys are providing insight into customer behavior that can be applied to improve the overall online experience.

Surveying can be used to answer a variety of questions from how customers navigate a site to what makes them abandon midstream. There are a variety of tools on the market that help non-technical hotel personnel develop targeted questionnaires that are sent to customers upon any type of site transaction.

One example of a company that has done an exemplary job is Red Lion Hotels (www.redlion.com). Since 2005 Red Lion Hotels has used "click to call" services that offer customers the opportunity to directly connect with a customer service representative with the push of one button when they require personal assistance on the site. Following each call, Red Lion offers users the opportunity to participate in a post-call survey to garner feedback about their experience with the click to call program and to validate the service as a beneficial component of its marketing program. The survey functions as an extension of the Red Lion brand, so customers can participate as a continuous brand experience and the company can seamlessly integrate its messaging for a polished look.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.